How I learned to live again
Life was good as I was driving home on December 31, 2019. As I drove down my street I saw a fire truck behind me- not uncommon as we live close to the main fire station- and thought, “My gosh, someone’s New Year’s Eve is not starting off well!” I was sending positive thoughts to the family that called the fire truck only to find out that the fire truck was coming to me…
The rest of that evening went something like this: First of all, my aunt doing CPR on Brooklyn. The paramedics forcing me out of the room. The police. The lights. Wheeling my baby out while they tried to keep her body alive. Furthermore, calling her dad and telling him that both his daughters need him now. Finally, the crying- wailing- prayers that wracked my body until it physically hurt. Less than 24 hours later, on January 1, 2020, my little baby Brookie was gone.
You just get stronger
I met my first “bereaved mother” at Brooklyn’s elementary school about a week after her passing. She was a new school counselor and shared that she had lost her daughter at the same age as Brooklyn, 10 years ago. She said something to me that has become my mantra and, in my opinion, is the best way to explain the effects of child loss on a parent. She told me that losing a child is like having a 100-pound rock thrown at you and being expected to carry it the rest of your life. The rock doesn’t get lighter, you just get stronger! Sometimes, the rock is so heavy you drop it on your toe and the pain is agonizing; but, you always pick up the rock again. And again. And again.
Those first few weeks I cried deliriously. I would call out for Brooklyn and get mad when she wouldn’t physically show up for me. On January 24th, 2020, my other daughter Brianna’s 16th birthday, I spoke to Brooklyn and asked her to give me the strength to make her sister’s birthday special. Looking back, I can say this is when a shift occurred in me from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to post-traumatic GROWTH (PTG). Without getting too bogged down with definitions, PTG theory states that some people can and do experience positive growth following a traumatic event.
Post-traumatic growth comes in to play
Brooklyn’s death, for all intents and purposes, could be considered a result of natural causes. In other words, there is nothing that could have been done to prevent her passing which means I had nothing to be angry at. This may sound like a good thing and, in the long run, it is; however, in the immediate aftermath of my loss this meant that all I had was great sadness. Unbearable pain. Above all, I needed something to hold on to and this is where the rock metaphor and PTG theory came in to play.
The void where “anger & resentment” should have been begun to fill with hope and a desire to do something, anything, positive to honor Brooklyn. First of all, I started by writing letters to her as if she were still here with me just letting her know how I’m feeling. I wrote her a thank you card thanking her for allowing me to be her mom for 11 years and 11 months, the best years of my life. Also, I’m in graduate school to be a clinical mental health counselor- something Brook was very proud of.
Becoming a bereaved parent has shown me that there is a serious lack of support and resources for this demographic. I look forward to helping bereaved parents upon graduation and wish to start a nonprofit organization in Brook’s name that provides valuable financial and emotional resources for families like mine. I hope to become a presenter at counseling conferences as a person in a unique position to teach other counselors how to comfort those who have lost a child.
Just one positive project per day
Each day I try to think of at least one positive project I can embark upon to honor my baby. It doesn’t matter how large or small they may be, and it doesn’t matter if they come to fruition. What matters most is I am focusing my thoughts on what good can come from this experience. I’m not saying this is easy….it’s not. I’ve been put on this path that I don’t want to be on and cannot change. The only thing I can do it walk it with as much grace and light as possible. This is what Brooklyn would want and, for me, this is the best way I can honor her.
Our Guest Writer
My name is Elizabeth Farr and I’m currently working towards my M.A. in clinical mental health counseling. I believe my experience as a bereaved parent and training as a counselor provide me with the tools to train other mental health professionals the complexities of child loss and how best to serve bereaved parents, siblings, and grandparents
Image: Handlettering and artwork by Nathalie Himmelrich